BORIS YELTSIN is halfway through the door of the world's most prestigious rich men's club.
July 8 to 10, a confident Russian president will for the first time formally attend political consultations at the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrial nations' annual summit, this year in Naples, Italy. (Clinton to focus on Balkans, Ukraine at G-7 summit, Page 7.)
Mr. Yeltsin's presence in the ``political eight'' marks a partial victory for Russia, whose foreign policy has been dominated by an obsession with being treated like an equal in international affairs.
The move, while largely symbolic, is sure to be interpreted as a sign that Western leaders are beginning to accord Russia the global influence and stature it has been actively seeking since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
But Russia is not likely soon to gain the full membership it wants in the G-7, which includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, and Italy.
Russia knows that summit participants are ``not going to raise the question about the economic widening of G-7,'' Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Shokhin said Friday. But ``without Russia's participation, the implementation of global economic projects is impossible,'' he said.
Yeltsin and the other seven world leaders are expected to work on a variety of crucial political issues, ranging from the Bosnian crisis to the North Korean nuclear controversy.
But as an acknowledgment that Russia is not yet a great economic power, Yeltsin will not be invited to help shape the group's economic policies, even though helping Russian reforms is expected to be a primary topic of discussion. Another subject is a hefty Western aid plan that would persuade Ukraine to shut down its potentially dangerous nuclear reactors at Chernobyl.
``Club members will not be spared the invisible presence of Moscow,'' political observer Aleksei Portanski wrote in Wed-nesday's Izvestia newspaper. ``The battle against laundering dirty money and the danger of nuclear reactors are the most important points of the economic discussion [about Russia], and hardly anybody has doubts that Russia is capable of contributing to solving these problems.''
For years, Kremlin leaders have pined for access to G-7 summits. In 1991, then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev tried to upstage the meeting in London, but received firm rebuttals from Western leaders. In recent years, G-7 members have calmed Moscow's anxieties by holding separate meetings with Russia after the conclusion of official talks; they have sometimes been dubbed the ``G-7 Plus One.''
But Russian officials say Yeltsin's full political participation is not the only reason this summit marks a milestone. For the first time, Russia will not seek financial aid but will insist that it be treated as a full partner. It will be a far cry from last year's G-7 summit in Tokyo, when Russia received a $43 billion aid package.
Confident that the Russian economy is on track, Yeltsin will ask that ``discriminatory'' tariffs against Russian goods be lifted - such as the US Jackson-Vanik amendment - and that Russia be recognized as a country with a transitional economy. He also will press for Russia to gain broader access to Western markets and to International Monetary Fund resources. Proof that Russia can handle such responsibilities, he will say, is that political upheaval has quieted down, mass privatization of state-owned enterprises has taken place, and the inflation rate has declined from 20 percent monthly to less than 6 percent.
Recent international events are also indicative of Moscow's striving toward policies geared to please the West. On June 22, Russia took a key step toward easing tension with the West by signing NATO's Partnership for Peace plan. Later last month, Yeltsin traveled to the Greek island of Corfu and signed a cooperation pact with the European Union at a two-day summit.
``Partnership for Peace is not particularly important from the standpoint of Russian national interests. Russia's participation in the G-7 is now more important,'' First Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Adamishin wrote recently in the weekly Moscow News. He added that turning the political G-7 into a political G-8 is a ``serious act of Russia's joining in a peculiar kind of World Directory.''
But some warn that Russia should not go overboard about G-7 prospects. Veteran foreign- policy commentator Stanislav Kondrashov, for example, has warned that as long as Russia's domestic economy is in trouble, it has no right to boast about its foreign-policy achievements.
``Automatic doors leading to the future do not exist, and neither do miraculous transformations in world politics and economics,'' Mr. Kondrashov wrote in Izvestia Saturday. ``Russia's status is middle-of-the-road, a transitional one. It will be possible for us to become full members in flourishing world communities and alliances only with time, after we meet the criteria of stability and efficiency.''